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My Beef With Twilight

Bloggers elsewhere have already said a great deal about Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series, and why it is so troublesome. You can find a great analysis from David P. Goldman here, which  sums up some of the more destructive elements at work in the series.

I’m also concerned about the Twilight series because of what it seems to represent, both from a literary and a cultural perspective. Since Goldman addresses the issue of sex, I’ll table that issue and look at one that really grinds my gears: the depiction of the vampire.

It’s Meyers’ depiction of the vampire that ultimately bothers me the most. Vampires are evil creatures. Most depictions put them in a league with the damned, demons and other residents of the underworld. Once human, they are now Something Else, and it is generally accepted that this Something Else is irredeemable.

What’s most important about the vampire is that they may look human, but their humanity has been destroyed. Some of the most intelligent vampire figures ever crafted are locked in a constant battle with a desire to regain some of their humanity, against the ever-present reality that they can never be what they once were.

Even the “good” vampires are objectively evil figures, insofar as anything can be, when evil is a perversion of the good. This is why vampires like Bill of True Blood and Ann Rice’s creations appeal and captivate. There’s no going back, and the vampire struggles to come to terms with that.

Twilight vampires don’t fit the tradition. At times, they seem more human than the humans. They’re vegetarians. They don’t feed off of human beings. They’re physically beautiful, perfect in every way. They… sparkle.

And personality wise, they remind me of emo kids always wrapped up in the pettiness of teenage problems. Difference is, they occasionally break out of their life-for-us-is-hard whining to battle werewolves and interact with other vampires.

Looking at a Twilight vampire, who wouldn’t want to be one of these guys? They’re not monsters, not objectively evil creatures. They can live forever, and seem to retain the fullness of their humanity. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

It’s an ironic – yet fitting – artistic move for Meyers, who crafts her ultra-human vampire in an age where that which has always been considered morally problematic is now acceptable, even lauded. The vampire no longer serves as a cautionary figure; he no longer stands as an example of the darkest parts of human nature and perversion: the vampire is now something it’s fine to be.

A perfect (though unintentional) commentary on the state of our ailing cultural, political, and moral values.

I leave you with this video, which wraps up everything else wrong with the series:

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

As loyal readers remember, I posted in glee over the the release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a few months back. I confess that I am not immune to the “zombie mania” gripping popular culture as of late; I’ve always had a thing for classic horror, and I appreciate the recent efforts of Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z), who put zombies back on the literary map.

Plus, let’s face it: Jane Austen’s novel just isn’t for boys. Poignant social commentary and criticism? Certainly. Masterful, aesthetically pleasing English? You bet. But entertaining to a modern member of the lesser sex?

Not even remotely, and Seth Grahame-Smith had to know this coming in. PPZ works at a superficial level because it combines elements men care not one iota for (feminine social absurdities long dead and buried) with what they can’t get enough of (the dead no longer buried). Grahame-Smith knows his audience, and he plays to us throughout.

If the overall concept of this novel sounds absurd, let me assure you that it is. Unfortunately, Grahame-Smith misses combining these elements in an effective way, and the absurdity fails to become believable. Scenes involving zombie attacks or the warrior-nature of the heroines are poorly intertwined with Austen’s plot, and the reader can’t help but sense that he (or maybe, she) is reading two novels.

Grahame-Smith retained about 80% of the original as I understand it, and I think this is the problem. If the author had taken more liberty with the original story, perhaps there would be more continuity between the two tales. As it stands, I wouldn’t blame the average, red-blooded American male for feeling hoodwinked by PPZ, since – in the end – he just did what he’d never do otherwise: he read Pride and Prejudice.

What’s more, these are some of the most uninteresting zombies ever fashioned. Where do they come from, and why? What about their level of cognitive and physical function? The author never really approaches these questions, leaving the zombies as little more than weird, interludical props: they spring up suddenly in a sentence or two, are dispatched by page-end, and then we’re back to women fretting over hats.

Despite my criticisms regarding the weakness of this work, I can’t help but recommend it… to Lit Nerds like yours truly, who share my penchant for mashup.

Otherwise, approach this one at your own risk: where zombies are in play, your brain is always on the line.

Postscript: My negative thoughts on this work will in no way keep me from reading Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, due out next month.

Three Reasons You Should Be Reading John C. Wright

A friend tipped me to John C. Wright’s blog, found here. Three reasons to add him to the blogroll and the bookshelf:

  1. He writes pretty darned good Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I’d read The Golden Age books before I knew anything of his innate awesomeness.
  2. He once declared, “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.” Having spent the summer around process theology, I cannot tell you how true this statement is.
  3. He continues to write things like this, in response to a review of one of his stories:

No comment about the story says anything about the story-writer: the reviewer here breaks the fourth wall and makes a personal comment about my ability to “get it” because that is the automatic reflex of her particular philosophy, which suffers from one weakness that crops up in every follower of it I have ever met, bar none, no matter their background or education.

Leftists all argue by Ad Hominem. Philosophy, for them, is not a search for truth, but a martial aid to augment a limp and failing self-esteem.

Leftist have to make comments uplifting themselves and putting down the opposition, because their philosophy does not allow for anything else. It is not as if they can say that there is an objective standard that they fulfill better than other men, and base their pride on that. It is not as if they can say the objective rules of logic support their conclusions.

Nope. Moderns are the children of Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, and other frauds and charlatans posing as thinkers. What the bigs frauds do is pretend everything evolves, or everything is historical necessity, or everything is willpower, or everything is subconscious impulses. All these theories are vague enough to fit any situation — what Karl Popper called ‘un-disprovable’ — but more importantly, all allowed for ad Hominem dismissal of criticism by calling character of the critic into question: as Marx did by dismissing economists as merely spokesmen for economic interests, as Hegel did by dismissing ancient writers as being undeveloped (as if truth depended on when you spoke it), as Freud did with Jung, and so on and on.

The little frauds follow the big frauds. They assume all disagreement is based on ignorance or malice, and not on differences of axioms, exposure to different experience, or the judicious people placing different weight on the testimony of contradictory witnesses.

What makes it ironic is that these modern intellectuals more often than not do not know who invented the ideas they are reciting, or have not read the original works.

Pretty much sums up why I left the vapid wasteland of leftist groupthink in a college dorm.

Finally. Some Jane Austen I Can Get Behind!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!

Just the cover makes me want to own it.

Jane Austen just isn’t guy stuff. A little pinch of “zombie” turns anything into instant awesome, though.

(If you care to read the legitimate Pride and Prejudice – though I can’t imagine why you would -  do it with the Ignatius Critical Edition!)

UPDATE! A priest buddy of mine reminds us that Pride and Predator (follow the link, folks. You won’t be sorry) is coming to the Big Screen!

The new film from Elton John’s Rocket Pictures will have the seven-foot extraterrestrial give the characters from Pride and Prejudice something more immediate to worry about than making advantageous marriages.

Finally! Something that doesn’t bore me to tears.

Atlas Shrugged

Interesting. Rep. John Campbell of California:

“People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” said Campbell. “The achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit rest of us, are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs, the people who create wealth, who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.”

This, on top of the fact that sales of Atlas Shrugged “have almost tripled over the first seven weeks of this year compared with sales for the same period in 2008.”

I actually received a few nastygrams for a brief post I made on Objectivism (the post, I believe, has gone down the memory hole). Needless to say, I’m not as keen on it as I was at 15 or 16, before I developed an interest in political philosophy.

But the basic premises of Objectivism deserve attention, especially as it concerns the success of the individual. As individual economic freedoms seem more and more at risk in recent days – and as the Tea Party movement responds – it makes sense that folks out there are turning to a more liberating system of thought.

At least, more liberating than what we’re seeing in the current political climate.

(H/T: Instapundit)

More Thoughts on the Kindle 2

In my last post on Amazon’s newest book reading device, Greg and Ellyn raised a good point: using the Kindle eliminates the “feel” of reading a book. The experience just isn’t the same, and you’re left with something else.

Appropriately (and somewhat ironically), Stephen King adds his two cents on this in his short novella UR (only available on the Kindle), which is the first thing I purchased through the device. In this scene, a professor of English (Wesley) discusses the medium with a student (Henderson):

“Mr. Henderson, he said, there will always be books. Which means there will always be paper and binding. Books are real objects. Books are friends.”

“Yeah, but!” Henderson had replied, his sweet smile now becoming slightly shy.

“But?”

“They’re also ideas and emotions. You said so in your first class.”

“Well,” Wesley had said, “you’ve got me there. But books aren’t solely ideas. Books have a smell, for instance. One that gets better – more nostalgic – as the years go by. Does this gadget of yours have a smell?”

“Nope,” Henderson replied. “Not really. But when you turn the pages…here, with this button…they kind of flutter, like in a real book, and I can go to any page I want, and when it sleeps, it shows pictures of famous writers, and it holds a charge, and -”

“It’s a computer,” Wesley had said. “You’re reading from a computer.”

The Henderson kid had taken his Kindle back. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. It’s still ‘Paul Case.’”

Of course, Wesley and Ellyn are right. Electronic media eliminates the character, the feel of holding a real book. Some of my favorites are the ones I’ve had for years, the pages turned yellow with time. Just seeing a book sometimes leads me to recall where I read it, and what was going on in my life at the time. No doubt about it: books have a romantic quality to them.

At the same time, however, “curling up with a good book” isn’t always as romantic as it sounds. I often despise holding books, especially paperbacks. Paperbacks are worthless on a flat surface, and I do a ton of reading in bed. They’re often printed and bound cheaply, and the reader has to contort his or vision (or his or her hands) to catch the final words on a line.

In the end, I side with Henderson. I read for the ideas and the joy of a good story; the romanticism of the act is secondary, and not necessary. Thus, I’ve had little problem adapting to the Kindle this week.

Cruising the Internet?

Yep. I even wrote a “testing” blogpost from the Kindle. Pretty cool, given that I don’t have a nextgen phone with all the mobile Internet bells and whistles. Neither easy nor aesthetically pleasing, it gets the job done. Still, I doubt I’ll ever use the feature unless I’m stranded somewhere without Internet access for a significant period of time.

The Lighting Situation

If I had to point out one big problem with the Kindle, it would be in the continual need for a strong light source. Amazon should have added an optional backlight, even if it means decreased battery life. As it stands, readers must hug a lamp to read comfortably. Here’s to hoping that they incorporate this feature into the Kindle 3.

The Screen Size

Too small. I would’ve appreciated it more if Amazon had decided to make the overall size of the device equivalent to the cover of a hardback. This wouldn’t change the overall depth of the Kindle, and more display area would help produce a more traditional reading experience.

Battery Life

Excellent. I’ve been using it a ton this week, and am still at about 33% in terms of battery life. Like a laptop, the key to extending a charge is in turning off the Whispernet service.

Closing Remarks

Again, I reiterate what I’ve said previously: it’s a great device, especially for those who read a lot of books and are not particularly attached to the old school. But it is not without its faults, and I can see why some remain leery.

A (Long) Evening with the Kindle 2

It’s Christmas in February. Or at least it feels like it. I bought nearly everything G.K. Chesterton ever wrote for $0.80.

Amazon’s Kindle 2 – originally ordered by my father as a Christmas gift – finally arrived in the mail this week, and I spent all of last night working with the thing.

After seeing my Facebook status indicating that I was really enjoying my Kindle, a friend called with some questions about the device. For others out there who might be interested, I thought I’d share some general impressions.

How much does it cost to have a book delivered? How does delivery work?

Delivery costs nothing, and works through the cell phone system. It is in no way attached to Internet access, so if you can get a cellphone signal, you can buy a book.

You’re also under no obligation to pay for the delivery service. So, whereas people need service plans to access cell towers, you don’t need anything to make the Kindle work. Amazon picks up the tab.

Is it really that easy to order a book? And does it really take “just seconds” as Amazon claims? And what about sampling a book before you buy?

Ordering is about as easy as browsing Amazon.com, with search functions and basic browsing options available through the device itself. I’m big on fantasy and horror novels, and was pleased to see that browsing genres and sub-genres is extremely easy. If you prefer to browse and buy through Amazon.com on a computer of your choice, that option is also available and your purchase will by synced to the device.

Delivery takes under a minute, but I did hit a snag last night and one title took a little over two minutes to arrive.

On the issue of sampling, let me just say: it rules. What Amazon gives you for free to see if you’d be interested in a book is far more than I ever read while squatting in the aisles at Barnes & Noble. I spent about twenty minutes reading through a free sample of Max Brooks’ (son of Mel) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War before I realized I had no interest in purchasing it. That’s great: it cuts down on impulse buying, and you aren’t stuck with something you won’t read just because you didn’t have a chance to look it over first..

Is it easy to read the screen?

For the most part, yes. The grayscale inkage is very clear, and I like how I can vary the size of the text to something extremely large or extremely small. This comes in handy if you read as much as I do: come 3 AM, eye strain takes its toll.

A negative here, though: you definitely require a good light source. With no backlight to provide illumination, the dark gray background doesn’t allow the text to stand out as well as black text against a normal sheet of white/cream paper. If you read in the dark as I often do, you’ll find yourself edging closer to a light source with the Kindle.

Pictures and covers?

Pretty impressive for black-and-white grayscale, with good DPI. However, I would never buy a book on the Kindle if I cared about the pictures.

Any free books? How are the books priced?

Thousands, when you consider all the free e-book sites out there. But Amazon even offers some through the Whispernet service, and I spent part of my Saturday morning enjoying Treasure Island again, at the cost of $0.00.

For the record, I abhor how publishing companies expect me to pay $30 for the latest Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, George R.R. Martin, or a host of others I faithfully follow, and I hate how I’m almost always forced to pay 75% of the list price through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com. I read the book, then it ends up sitting in my dad’s basement for ten years.

But with the Kindle? $9.99-13 for new titles. I read it, I always have access to it, and one book takes up as much space as 2,000. A paperback runs around $6-8, which is really no change over a book store.

Ultimately, I suspect that the Kindle 2 will pay for itself in a year since I will be more inclined to read newly released titles through the reader. The only danger is that publishers will force Amazon to drive up the cost, and if that happens, then one of my primary motivations for switching to e-book format is toast.

How many books can I store?

With 2 GB onboard memory, more than you need.

The trick here when answering this question: how many free e-books did you put onto the device, through the USB cable? This is key, because as far as everything you order from Amazon is concerned, if you download it and then delete it, you can always go back and download it again at no cost. It’s kinda like storing the item elsewhere.

Still, I am severely disappointed in Amazon’s decision to remove the SD card reader. This is the only thing the Kindle 1 has over the Kindle 2.

Final impressions

I love it. But I also fully acknowledge that a $350 e-book reader isn’t for everyone. If you read a lot, though – especially for fun – it just might be a gadget for you.